I am not against using animals for drug testing -we are stuck with genetic imperative 'driving the life-form to live
as long as possible'.
That said, how we treat our 'warm-blooded
congregational lessers' is a measure of how we deal
with each other -obviously still primitive.
Democracy is not 'the best form of government' -except in the minds of
those who have not had the experience to see beyond
Science 26 February 2010: Science
Dog Dealers' Days May Be Numbered
Legislators want to shut down the pipeline of "random source" dogs and cats to
laboratories, but some researchers worry about the impact on science.
In the summer of 2005, a 1-year-old Labrador mix with brindle markings arrived
on a truck at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The dog, one of a
handful of ostensibly unwanted canines rounded up by an animal dealer from
local pounds, was to be implanted with an experimental heart device and
eventually euthanized. But this dog was hardly unwanted. When research
technicians passed a handheld scanner over his shoulder blades, they detected a
microchip that they traced back to a man, three states away, desperately
searching for his pet, Echo.
Cases like Echo's demonstrate what can happen when the
so-called Class B dealer system breaks down. For more than 4 decades,
individuals licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have
collected dogs and cats from shelters, breeders, and other sources and sold
them to research facilities. Proponents say these dealers provide genetically
diverse breeds of various sizes and ages that can't be obtained from
traditional laboratory animal suppliers and that are essential in some types of
research. But detractors point to a history of misconduct, from stolen pets to
animal cruelty, and have been trying for years to shut down the system. "By
using these animals, we risk losing our credibility with the public," says
Robert Whitney, who oversaw animal resources programs at the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than 20 years. "It's an Achilles' heel for
The rise of animal welfare
Last year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released
a report that backed up what Whitney and fellow thinkers have been saying.
"Class B dealers are not necessary for supplying dogs and cats for
NIH-funded research," it said, and recommended ways to phase out the system.
The report is also giving fuel to a congressional bill that would ban these
But many in the research community are fighting back, even
those who don't use Class B dealers. "These actions are premature," says
Alice Ra'anan, director of Government Relations and Science Policy at the
American Physiological Society (APS), which represents more than 10,000
scientists, doctors, and veterinarians. Any such ban, she says, would delay
important research projects and could shut down others entirely. "It would
be enormously disruptive."
Figure 1: Motley crew. Dogs gathered from a variety of sources await
transport at a Class B dealer facility.
CREDIT: ANIMAL WELFARE INSTITUTE
Ironically, it was a case much like Echo's that helped create the Class B
dealer system. In 1965, a Dalmatian named Pepper was stolen from a farm in
Pennsylvania and sold to a research hospital in New York, where she died in a
cardiac pacemaker experiment before her owners could locate her. The following
year, Life magazine published "Concentration Camps for Dogs," a photo exposé of
emaciated dogs, cats crammed into chicken crates, and other abuses at the
property of a Maryland dealer who sold animals to research facilities.
The stories galvanized the public, and in 1966 President
Lyndon Johnson signed the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act into law. The
legislation mandated the humane treatment of dogs, cats, and other laboratory
animals. It also created two types of licenses—Class A and Class B—for selling
animals to research. Class A dealers could sell only animals that they had
raised themselves, while Class B dealers could sell animals they had acquired
from "random sources," such as pounds, breeders, and even other dealers. Class
A facilities tended to be large corporate entities that bred animals on site,
while Class B dealers often ran smaller, "mom-and-pop" operations.
By the 1970s, the Class B dealer system was thriving. NAS
estimates that there were about 200 dealers supplying thousands of dogs and
cats to U.S. laboratories.
These animals proved critical to advances in science and
medicine. Large-chested Dalmatians like Pepper helped doctors develop some of
the first artificial-heart devices and lung-transplant procedures. And cats and
dogs gathered from the general population harbored a variety of genetic
diseases and infections that led to insights into everything from sleep apnea
Class B dealers, the report found, were no longer providing
the valued diversity they had in the past. Shut out of shelters and forced to
rely on breeders and private owners, the dealers were selling researchers
primarily young hounds and beagles—essentially the same type of dogs Class A
dealers were providing. "We could not find any compelling evidence that these
animals were unique," says Barthold.
Yet, despite USDA regulation, stolen and abused animals
continued to show up at research institutions. So, in 1990, Congress
toughened the Animal Welfare Act. Shelters now had to hold animals for 5
days before selling them to Class B dealers, and—as part of a new USDA
"traceback" program—the dealers had to provide extensive documentation about
where they got their animals, often detailing multiple sources over several
states. Some shelters began refusing to sell cats and dogs to Class B
The biggest blow to the Class B system came in 2003, when
a member of a humane organization—Last Chance for Animals—infiltrated the
Arkansas facility of a Class B dealer named C. C. Baird and went public with
accounts of sick, abused, and dying animals, many of which appeared to be
former pets. The case became fodder for an HBO documentary and resulted in
the largest investigation of animal abuse in U.S. history. USDA, blamed for
not properly enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, intensified its traceback
program and began unannounced quarterly inspections of Class B
The intense regulation took its toll. Today, only 11 Class
B dealers sell dogs and cats to research facilities (hundreds of others sell
nonhuman primates, pigs, and other animals), and more than half of these are
under intense USDA scrutiny. Together, they supply about 3000 dogs and
cats—about 3% of the 90,000 or so used in U.S. research.
Yet critics have been unable to shut down the system
entirely. In 1996, federal legislators first introduced the Pet Safety and
Protection Act, which would have outlawed the sale of cats and dogs to
researchers from Class B dealers. But APS and other research groups opposed
it, and it has failed to pass every year it has been proposed. That may
change with the release of last year's NAS report.
The leash tightens
The report seems damning in its conclusions. Commissioned by Congress in
response to Echo, C. C. Baird, and other incidents, it found that although
Class B dog and cat dealers had provided a vital service to biomedicine, the
system was now obsolete and even potentially damaging to research. "There is
a minority of dealers that are totally legitimate and doing the job well,"
says Stephen Barthold, the chair of the report committee and director of the
Center for Comparative Medicine at the University of California, Davis. "But
others have sullied the reputation and are taking down the whole thing."
Figure 3: "Concentration camps." A photo from the 1966 Life magazine exposé
that helped create the Class B dealer system.
CREDIT: STAN WAYMAN//TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
The committee also concluded that, because of limited
resources, USDA could not properly regulate the Class B system. "USDA is
supposed to ensure compliance," says Barthold, "but they've done a bad job."
And that meant stolen and abused animals could still end up in U.S. research
labs. "It's a very negative public stigma that, personally, I don't think NIH
needs," Barthold says. USDA refutes those claims: "The record over the years
shows that we've enforced the system very well," counters Robert Gibbens, who
oversees USDA regulation of Class A and B dealers in the western United
The NAS committee recommended several ways to phase out the
Class B dog and cat system. It suggested that researchers get their animals
directly from pounds and shelters. It advised paying Class A dealers to provide
older and more genetically diverse animals. And it proposed that universities
or NIH set up consortia to share dogs and cats, as has been done for primates
and rodents. "There are so many possible sources for these animals," says Cathy
Liss, president of the Washington, D.C.–based Animal Welfare Institute (AWI),
which has tried to find a middle ground between groups like APS and those who
want to eliminate cat and dog research entirely. "It's about trying to ensure
integrity in the supply."
But these ideas have not sat well with scientists who still
rely on the Class B system. "All of the possibilities ... wouldn't work as far
as I'm concerned," says a cardiovascular researcher who asked to remain
anonymous so as not to draw attention to his university. For more than 30
years, he has used large and old random-source dogs from Class B dealers to
study cardiovascular diseases and develop medical devices. Class A dealers
don't stock these dogs, he says, because it's more economical for them to sell
puppies. Nor can he get them from shelters, because most no longer sell to
researchers. And he says he doesn't understand why NIH or Class A dealers
should breed extra dogs and cats for terminal research, when millions of
shelter animals are euthanized every year.
"There may not be a lot of groups in America still using
Class B dogs for research," he says, "but the numbers do not reflect the
importance of the research being done."
End of the pipeline?
Still, the end seems near for Class B dog and cat dealers. Last fall,
Representative Mike Doyle (D–PA) and Senator Daniel Akaka (D–HI) reintroduced
identical versions of the Pet Safety and Protection Act (H.R. 3907 and S. 1834,
respectively). With the National Academies' report, "we're in a better position
to pass this bill than we've ever been," says Doyle. NIH's response to the
report, which is expected this spring, could include halting future funding for
research that uses Class B dogs and cats.
Even APS seems to acknowledge that the system is on its way
out. The society has endorsed the NAS report, and Ra'anan says it wants to work
with NIH to develop viable alternatives. She's arguing for a 5-year transition
period, especially for labs that have ongoing projects with random-source
animals. "This is not something that can be done overnight," she says, "but we
need to get the ball rolling."
Some universities have already started. Duke, Yale, and MIT,
for example, discourage their researchers from obtaining cats and dogs from
Class B dealers. Says AWI's Liss: "Institutions need to step up to the
At least one dealer says it is planning on shutting down on
its own. "I don't see how the system can continue to survive like this," says
Janice Hodgins, who has run a Class B facility in Howell, Michigan, with her
husband since 1960. At one time, the operation housed more than 300 dogs and
cats, used in everything from hip-replacement studies to mental health
research. Today, they have just nine. "There's been a lot of things learned
through random-source animals," she says, "but I feel like we're on the losing
end of this now."